A fast-paced blend of high-stakes drama and average teenage concerns (sex, appearance, friends), capped with a welcome...

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CASTLES ON THE SAND

A 16-year-old girl burdened with a tangle of adult and teenage worries gets some unexpected help when a long-lost sibling appears on her doorstep.

When Madison’s Mormon brother, John, tracks her down in her small beach town, she’s anything but pleased. John is eager to reconnect with her, but she remains wary of his religion, as well as the other Mormons in her town. Madison’s brother is the least of her concerns, as she instead worries about the hot advances of her crush, Jean Pierre; her cruel best friend, Kailie; and her callous mother, who spends more time in her art studio than in her role as a parent. Madison faces these problems as a martyr. When Kailie ruthlessly hacks into Madison’s Facebook account, provoking another girl to give Madison two black eyes, Madison demurs: “I know Kailie’s felt this banged up and worse, emotionally, but she bottles it up inside. People only see the carefree front she puts up.” Just when readers may find this sort of helpless behavior cloying, Madison accepts help. Mormonism becomes a magnet in the story, drawing Madison in not for its religion, but for its members, like the kind and handsome Carson and the town freak, Alex Katsumoto, who goes from being a misunderstood mute “psycho” to the answer to all of Madison’s problems. John gives his love and attention to Madison, gradually becoming the sanctuary she needs, despite Madison’s initial resistance. She must learn to rely on these new friends and allies as she finds herself working to save Kailie from an abusive situation and her own mother from destitution. Through these challenges, Madison becomes the strong and compassionate narrator that lacks for the majority of the story. Adults are for the most part shockingly terrible people, creating an element of disbelief that things could get so bad for these teens without more immediate intervention or consequence. The novel aims for drama and achieves just that, although the level of many characters’ cruelty towards Madison is often over-the-top; a lesser menace would have sufficed.

A fast-paced blend of high-stakes drama and average teenage concerns (sex, appearance, friends), capped with a welcome message of hope. 

Pub Date: Aug. 15, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-4791-2029-1

Page Count: 264

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Aug. 14, 2012

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WOODSONG

A three-time Newbery Honor winner tells—in a memoir that is even more immediate and compelling than his novels—about his intimate relationship with Minnesota's north woods and the dog team he trained for Alaska's Iditarod.

Beginning with a violent natural incident (a doe killed by wolves) that spurred his own conversion from hunter and trapper to observing habitant of the forest, Paulsen draws a vivid picture of his wilderness life—where bears routinely help themselves to his dog's food and where his fiercely protective bantam adopts a nestful of quail chicks and then terrorizes the household for an entire summer. The incidents he recounts are marvelous. Built of concrete detail, often with a subtext of irony or mystery, they unite in a modest but telling self-portrait of a man who has learned by opening himself to nature—not to idyllic, sentimental nature, but to the harsh, bloody, life-giving real thing. Like nature, the dogs are uncontrollable: independent, wildly individual, yet loyal and dedicated to their task. It takes extraordinary flexibility, courage, and generosity to accept their difficult strengths and make them a team: Paulsen sees humor in their mischief and has learned (almost at the cost of his life) that rigid discipline is irrelevant, even dangerous. This wonderful book concludes with a mesmerizing, day-by-day account of Paulsen's first Iditarod—a thrilling, dangerous journey he was so reluctant to end that he almost turned back within sight of his goal. lt's almost as hard to come to the end of his journal.

This may be Paulsen's best book yet: it should delight and enthrall almost any reader.

Pub Date: Aug. 1, 1990

ISBN: 0-02-770221-9

Page Count: 160

Publisher: Bradbury

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1990

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GETTING NEAR TO BABY

Couloumbis’s debut carries a family through early stages of grief with grace, sensitivity, and a healthy dose of laughter. In the wake of Baby’s sudden death, the three Deans remaining put up no resistance when Aunt Patty swoops in to take away 12-year-old Willa Jo and suddenly, stubbornly mute JoAnn, called “Little Sister,” in the misguided belief that their mother needs time alone. Well-meaning but far too accustomed to getting her way, Aunt Patty buys the children unwanted new clothes, enrolls them in a Bible day camp for one disastrous day, and even tries to line up friends for them. While politely tolerating her hovering, the two inseparable sisters find their own path, hooking up with a fearless, wonderfully plainspoken teenaged neighbor and her dirt-loving brothers, then, acting on an obscure but ultimately healing impulse, climbing out onto the roof to get a bit closer to Heaven, and Baby. Willa Jo tells the tale in a nonlinear, back-and-forth fashion that not only prepares readers emotionally for her heartrending account of Baby’s death, but also artfully illuminates each character’s depths and foibles; the loving relationship between Patty and her wiser husband Hob is just as complex and clearly drawn as that of Willa Jo and Little Sister. Lightening the tone by poking gentle fun at Patty and some of her small-town neighbors, the author creates a cast founded on likable, real-seeming people who grow and change in response to tragedy. (Fiction. 11-13)

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-399-23389-X

Page Count: 211

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 1999

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